In recent times, the issue of mental health has gained unprecedented momentum. Mental illnesses affect millions globally. Among these, anxiety and social anxiety stand out as increasingly prevalent concerns. Both deeply impact the lives of those they touch. This article focuses on the intricate subject of mental health, specifically focusing on social anxiety and the mental health condition of anxiety.
The prevalence of anxiety in its various forms has escalated, affecting individuals across multiple age groups and backgrounds. Anxiety, a natural stress response, can manifest in various ways. It ranges from generalized anxiety disorder to more specific social anxiety.
Understanding Social Anxiety
Social anxiety often manifests as a fear of being judged adversely or embarrassed in social situations. This kind of fear may lead to avoidance of social interactions. It in turn affects personal and professional relationships. It can be a challenging obstacle in day-to-day life. According to Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit American academic medical centre on integrated health care, education, and research, the signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include:
- The persons fear that they can be judged negatively
- Worry about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
- Intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers
- Fear that others will notice that you look anxious
- Fear of physical symptoms that may cause you embarrassment, such as blushing and sweating
- Avoidance of doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
- · Avoidance of situations where you might be the centre of attention
- Anxiety in anticipation of a feared activity or event
- Intense fear or anxiety during social situations
- The expectation of the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation
There are, however, proven strategies and techniques to overcome social anxiety, remove inhibitions and build confidence in social interactions.
Strategies to Overcome Social Anxiety
Regular physical activity is a powerful tool against social anxiety. It enhances mental health, fosters positive emotions, and builds psychological resilience. It is a natural stress reliever. Thanks to endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals. This improved mood can translate into lower anxiety levels in social situations.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present without judgment. It’s about being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without getting involved or caught up. When we experience mindfulness, we can learn to let go of worries about the past or anxieties about the future. It is simply ‘be present in the here and now.’
There are many ways to learn and practice mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, and simply taking out some time each day to focus on the breath. Even small acts of mindfulness can have a significant impact on our wellbeing.
Mindfulness helps in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression while increasing positive mood and resilience. Simple daily practices like mindfulness walking or listening to music can be highly beneficial.
Seek professional help for Social Anxiety
If our anxiety is overwhelming, we must not hesitate to seek professional help. Medication is required where symptoms are moderate to severe. Besides, a therapist can provide personalized guidance and support, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can reduce anxiety symptoms.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is effective in treating social anxiety. It involves challenging negative thought patterns and learning positive coping mechanisms, like cognitive reframing.
It also empowers with behavioural skills to face social situations head-on. We can safely confront our fears through gradual exposure therapy. It starts with small and manageable interactions. Then gradually working on more challenging tasks and situations.
A Gradual Exposure
In this technique, we are gradually exposed to social situations that cause anxiety. It can start from less fearful scenarios and progressively move on to face more challenging problems. This method helps in building tolerance and confidence over time. Confronting fears is essential in overcoming social anxiety.
Instead of being self-conscious, we must focus on others in social settings. Engaging and listening mindfully can shift attention away from internal anxieties.
A balanced diet, regular exercise, limited caffeine and alcohol intake, and adequate sleep are crucial for managing anxiety levels. To begin with, we should aim for at least two hours of moderate to intense exercise per week. Exercise releases endorphins, natural mood boosters that combat anxiety. We may consider activities we enjoy, such as brisk walking, dancing, or team-based sports.
It would help if we go for a more balanced diet, that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These choices stabilize blood sugar and energy levels, preventing anxiety spikes.
We should also aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. A well-slept and rested mind is better equipped to manage stress and anxiety. We need to stick to a regular sleep schedule. It can create a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoid screens before bed.
Practising deep breathing exercises can help control physical symptoms of anxiety, including an increased heart rate and muscle tension. There are many deep breathing exercises, also known as Pranayama, like 4-7-8 and box breathing.
Engage Socially and Seek Support
Even otherwise, you are required to connect with others. It is essential for our happiness. Social interaction is crucial for mental well-being. We must spend time with loved ones and join a club or community group. Moreover, we need to build a strong support network that can surely give us comfort and reduce feelings of isolation. We should confide in friends or family for support. Having a trusted person in social situations can give a comfortable feeling and gradually build a sense of independence.
When social anxiety makes you your own worst critic, self-compassion can be a powerful antidote. Imagine treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. That is the essence of self-compassion.
To begin with, we should be kind to ourselves and acknowledge that overcoming social anxiety is a journey. We should try to celebrate small victories. One should never be harsh on oneself for occasional setbacks. Failures are part of our journey. Real learning comes from setbacks and failures.
How the Strategies Work
These strategies gradually rewire the brain’s response to social situations. They gradually replace fear and anxiety with confidence and ease. Consistent practice and patience are essential in this transformative process.
Handling social anxiety is a gradual process that needs a combination of self-help strategies, lifestyle changes, and possibly professional help. With consistent effort and the proper techniques, it is possible to build confidence and feel ease and comfort in social settings. We should always keep in mind that every step forward is a step towards a more confident and fulfilling social life.
The writer is balvinder kumar, an author and the founder of Mind Therapy, a web portal for mental health.
To read more on mental health, visit www://themindtherapy.in/blog